Women haven’t come a long way in politics, baby

Female candidates continue to face harassment, questions because of gender

THERE IS A MINDSET that, with the extraordinary number of women running for office in local, state, and federal elections this year, it’s causing a problem for women’s groups and female voters who have to make a choice. (A Google search found no similar stories about the conundrum for guys when multiple white men run for the same office.)

That’s just one of the plethora of subtle and overt barriers female candidates have to overcome when running for office. More problematic, especially in the technology age in which we live, is the sexual harassment and abuse women candidates receive for being what they are – women and candidates.

“I often look at it and I’m like: ‘I know I should be feeling something right now. I know I should be feeling scared or angry or stressed.’ And it’s at a point where I can’t feel anything anymore,” Brianna Wu, who is running against US Rep. Stephen Lynch of South Boston in the Democratic primary, told the New York Times about some of the threatening and misogynist emails and social media postings aimed at her. “It’s almost like fear is a muscle that is so overtaxed, it can just do nothing else in my body.”

In a 2017 video put out by the Women’s Media Center of interviews with a number of women in and running for office, US Rep. Katherine Clark of Melrose talked about the “swatting” incident that resulted in police swarming her yard. She also spoke about having her face photoshopped on pornographic pictures.

“This is unfortunately a common experience but not one you should ever let silence you,” Clark says in the video.

The issue is coming to the forefront as a record number of women in both parties have won congressional primaries around the country. And the candidates on both sides who only share the commonality of gender say they have been subject to online attacks, off-line harassment, and sexist coverage that no one with a high level of testosterone would ever have to endure.

In Minnesota, for instance, Karin Housley is a state senator and former small businesswoman who won the GOP nomination for the special election to replace Al Franken, who resigned after sexual harassment complaints. But much of the coverage of Housley centers around the fact that she is the wife of NHL coach Phil Housley.

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is a veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is a veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.

With the spotlight on sexual harassment in the wake of the #MeToo movement, it’s easy to think those days are behind us and women will get a level playing field to better represent their sheer size of the electorate. One would be wrong.

“For good reason, there’s never any shortage of telling stories about women being harassed on the campaign trail,” Brianna Wu said. “But I cannot communicate to you strongly enough: Over all, this job is fun. This job is exhausting, but this job is amazing.”